Sunday, March 16, 2014

38 Years, 38 Lessons

I turned 38 on February 4th. I am not a woman who is saddened by aging. I celebrate each year. In honor of my 38 years on this earth, I am posting 38 things I've learned so far:

1. This is YOUR journey. People will try to tell you what you need to be, say, do, feel, think. But this is your journey. People can walk alongside you, but they cannot walk in your shoes. You must do what you need to do for yourself. Live the life you want.

2. Time heals. Do not act in haste. Give yourself time to process the things that happen to you from the breakup of a relationship to the death of a parent. The first 24 hours are always hard. Always. Depending on the loss, the next year may be hard. But time does soften the hard edges if you let it. If you give time some room, it will help you heal. You must do things in that time to really heal, but time itself is a great gift to bestow upon yourself while you decide what you need to do to move forward.

3. When in doubt, do nothing. If you are unsure of which path to take in life, of what action to take, do nothing. Clarity comes, but only if you allow it to do so. Don't do hasty things because you think you must make a choice right now. It's OK to just let things sit for awhile until you figure it out.

4. Quit. Quitting gets a bad rap a lot of the time. It's helpful to know when to quit and move on. As I said in this article, the word quit tends to have a negative connotation. We more readily accept the concepts of letting go and moving on and we see those things as being healthy and wise, but really letting go and moving on are just quitting's formal clothes. It's OK to stop doing things that aren't working for you anymore. 

5. Some friendships don't last forever. There are people you think will forever be in your life, but sometimes friendships end. Sometimes it's a spectacular demise and other times it's a quiet drifting. Some people are not meant to be in your life forever. Knowing how to let go of a friend is important and I've addressed that in this article.

6. Know who you can count on. There are people in your life who will be there for you when the chips are down. Know who those people are and realize that they are not always the ones you think they will be. You also need to know who you can count on for specific activities. If you're hospitalized, you may have friends who don't visit because they can't deal with hospitals, but they take care of your dog and your house and bring you food when you get out. People give in the ways they can do so and those ways may be different than what you would like, but accept what they are able to give. 

7. Work out. You don't have to take a class at the gym every night or run 20 miles before work in the morning, but you should have some kind of work out routine and it should be something you enjoy. Are you into dancing? Dance around the house. Walk around the block as a family every night with the dog. Ride your bike a few times a week. Do something to keep active and keep moving. 

8. No is a complete sentence. Learn to say no. It's hard. Really hard. We are conditioned to be helpful as a society, especially women, but you need to remember that when you say yes to one thing, you're saying no to something else. If you say yes to chairing yet another committee, you're saying no to time with family, quiet time for yourself, etc. And remember that when you say no, do not explain it. "No, I can't help you" is perfectly acceptable. If someone pushes you for a reason, repeat that you cannot help, wish them luck and leave.

9. Educate yourself. Everyone doesn't need to go to college, but everyone should educate themselves. Read about the things that interest you, get as much information as you can about topics that matter in your life. Don't believe everything you hear on the news or from others. Do some research and be open minded to the other side. It helps to know what the arguments are for the side you don't believe in so you can decide where you stand and why.

10. Get therapy. Everyone has things they can work out, things a neutral third party can help them with. Give a few sessions of therapy a try. It doesn't have to be a long-term situation, but it can help to talk things out with people who are trained to listen and to help you. People often believe friends can do this, but friends usually have too much invested in you to be objective and they are not trained in ways to help you change your thinking and change your ways of doing things that may be destructive. 

11. Don't explain. It's generally unhelpful to explain why you do the things you do in the way you do them. You will come across judgmental people in your life who will say things like this "You know, you should do X this way" or "Why are you doing THAT?" It's natural to defend yourself, but you don't have to. Saying "This works for me" is enough. You don't owe a defense of yourself or your way of being to anyone whether they are parents, friends, co-workers, etc.

12. Job interviews are a two-way street. When you're looking for a job, you are sometimes so desperate for the money that you don't take into account whether or not this is the right job for you. Remember that job interviews are a two-way street. You need to assess the people and the place you will be working just as much as they are assessing you. You need to know that the work styles of your manager and co-workers and the culture of the company will be a good fit for you. Ask questions to ascertain that. Read Ask a Manager for help with these issues, it's truly the best work site on the web.   

13. Read Codependent No MoreEven if you think you are not a codependent person, this book is incredibly helpful in understanding those who are. And there are a lot of them out there so if you're not codependent, you probably know at least one (and usually more) person who is. And if you are the codependent one, this book can help you move away from those behaviors.

14. Keep your own counsel. Many people blab about their dreams, goals, life plans, and personal issues to anyone who will listen and then they wonder why they've lost credibility. Keep your own counsel, do not share your personal information with everyone. Share plans when they are concrete and about to be or are already being executed. Otherwise, you set yourself up to be that guy that no one believes when he says, yet again, that he's going to lose weight/start running/go back to school...

15. Join a support group. There are support groups out there for everything from psychiatric issues to divorce to grief. Find one and join it. It's helpful to be around people who understand what you're going through. Find one that works for you, don't be afraid to try different groups. You don't have to go forever, but it can be helpful when you are going through tough times. 

16. Know your limitations. Maybe everyone thinks you'd be a great teacher, doctor, lawyer, mother, wife, farmer, whatever, but you know you don't have the skills for it. Know your limitations so you can put your time and energy into the things you can and want to do.

17. Enjoy quiet time. Everyone needs pockets of silence, time where there is no radio, TV, other people talking, or any other noise. Just time to breathe and quiet your mind. Fit at least one 10-minute pocket of silence into your day somewhere.

18. Be patient. Perhaps the toughest lesson for all of us is to have patience with ourselves, with others, and with life. Practice patience as often as you can. It's OK if you don't get through the grocery line as quickly as you might have otherwise, it's OK if you have to wait a few extra minutes at the movies. Practice being OK with that extra time.

19. Endure the seasons of life. The earth goes through seasons and so does life. There will be times in your life when you are in a harsh winter, a lovely rebirth spring, a beautiful summer full of sunshine, and an autumn of change. Embrace the seasons and their many lessons. Endure through the difficult seasons and enjoy the good ones. 

20. Don't chase a romantic partner. If someone wants to be with you, they will. It really is that simple. After 38 years and experience with divorce and dating, I can honestly say that it really does come down to a basic concept - if someone is interested, you will know it. There are no games, no angst, no bitterness, no immature behavior. If you find yourself chasing after someone, hoping for their time and attention, stop. Just stop. Move on. When you find the right person for you, those ridiculous games and all that angst are nowhere in sight. 

21. Learn active listening skills. Use them. Click the link for a good explanation of active listening. Really, truly listening to someone and providing helpful feedback is an art and worth learning.

22. Make a will. So many people put this off because they fear facing their own mortality or because they think they don't have anything all that valuable. However, almost everyone owns a car, a laptop, has a few dollars in a bank account, has furniture and so on. Dealing with an estate without a will is a nightmare even if that estate only contains a computer and $5 in a checking account. Make a will and be sure to update it as the years go on. A simple will is not that expensive and is worth the investment.

23. Save some money. Even if all you can save is $1 a month, do that. I've lived paycheck to paycheck so I know how hard it is, but getting in the habit of saving even a small amount is helpful. I have a box where I deposit my loose change. I then take it to one of those coin counting machines at the end of the year or whenever it's full. It's amazing how much money you can save just from loose change. 

24. Let other people solve their own problems. You are not obligated to help people out of their destructive patterns. If you keep giving rent money to people who decide to blow their bill money on gambling or other poor choices, you will find yourself angry and that person will be stuck in a bad pattern of relying on others for assistance. Not a good idea for either of you. And that is only one example. Adults can solve their own problems, it's not your job to do it for them and if they decide not to, accept that. If someone comes to you with a sob story, you can listen and offer emotional support, but you do not need to tell them what to do, how to do it, or give them the means to do it. I am not advocating that you not be charitable. There are times where you can and should help someone, but you need to be able to discern between helping someone in need and trying to solve their problems for them. 

25. Childhood trauma has a shelf life. Stop blaming your childhood for the way things are now. Even horribly abusive childhoods cannot be the reason for everything that happens in life. Maybe your parents really sucked and were clones of Mommy Dearest. Maybe your siblings were favored and you were left out in the cold. All of that is sad and awful, but you cannot use it to shore up your poor decisions currently. Your sucky childhood does not have to become your sucky adulthood. 

26. Don't give power where it's undeserved. Stop acting like certain things in life are horrible. Does getting divorced suck? Sure does, been there. But you know, the more space in your head that you give to the pain, the more power it has. Don't make something bigger and more horrible than it deserves to be. Most things we worry about never come to pass. Do not give power to the anxiety or the situations in life that don't deserve it. This doesn't mean you shouldn't process the pain. Totally OK to do that, but don't allow fear and pain to overtake you. Give it a voice and give it some time, but don't think of it as something that can ruin your life. That is way too much power for something that doesn't deserve it. 

27. People are not psychic. One of the most ridiculous phrases in the world that many have said (especially in romantic relationships) is "They should just know what I need!!" People are not generally psychic. You need to ask for what you want. Stop thinking people should just know. They don't know. Accept that and you'll be a happier person. Continuing on this topic, remember that often Silence implies consent. Don't fume and pout and be bitter when someone does something you dislike. Speak up. Let people know what you need and want and feel. If you stay silent hoping someone will realize you don't like/want/feel something, you are asking to be walked on. SPEAK UP. 

28. Relax. Find ways to relax. Maybe it's a hot bath, a stop at Starbucks in the morning, a run around the block, a long car ride with blaring music. Whatever it is, find it and do it often. 

29. Celebrate your birthday. You made it another year on this planet. Celebrate it. If you're not a fan of parties or the usual celebrations, at least get yourself a cupcake or your favorite ice cream or something. Your entrance into this world and you continuing to be in it are worthy of marking in some way.

30. Don't wait for the other person to act. So often, people say "So and so hasn't called me/visited/written me in awhile." Well, when's the last time you called, visited, or wrote? Why are you waiting for that other person to do it? Pick up the phone, the computer, your car keys and get in touch with them. 

31. Own it. Whatever you've decided to do in your life or not do, own it. It's your choice. Maybe it's a bad choice and maybe it's a good one, but whatever it is, own it. Don't act as though you have no control because you do. If you don't want to put the effort into losing weight, own that. If you decide to become a marathon runner and/or go back to school, own that. Your life, your choices. Own them.

32. Move. Staying in one place forever is a good way to stagnate. In 2002 I decided to move halfway across the country from my small hometown to the 4th largest city in America. I came here to attend law school. I knew no one and it was the best decision I ever made. Starting over somewhere new is invigorating. Everyone should do it at least once in their life. 

33. Travel to another country. One of the most educational and wonderful things I've done is travel to other countries. I've learned so much about other cultures, other people, and I've seen some amazing things. Traveling opens up your world in so many ways. People often think it's too expensive, but it really isn't if you do things on the cheap, which is how I've managed it all these years. You can take a vacation without staying in a five-star hotel and eating out every night.

34. Live alone. Knowing you can handle life on your own is invaluable. Live without your parents or a roommate for at least one year. You will get to know a lot about yourself and what you need and want in life. 

35. Learn to take a compliment. This one is especially important for women, but it applies to everyone. If someone pays you a compliment, say thank you. That's all. You do not need to try to convince them that they are wrong about your good qualities, fashion sense, or whatever else they complimented you on. Just say thank you. 

36. Move on. There comes a time where you need to stop giving time and attention to a person, a situation, an activity. You need to learn to move on. This involves getting to a place where you can do that. There are suggestions on this list for ways to do that (#10 - Get Therapy, #15 - Join a Support Group), but however you do it, make it a goal to move on. Clinging to people, situations and the past long past their expiration date is unhealthy and destructive and stops you from enjoying your life. Don't do that. Move on. 

37. Respect other people's journey. Other people will do things differently than you do. You may not agree with the way they are doing things. That's OK. Resist the urge to tell others how to live. Unless they are five years old and you gave birth to them, you don't get a vote in how they do things. If someone asks your opinion, feel free to give it. If they don't, leave them alone and respect that their journey is not your journey. 

38. Send thank you notes and letters. With the advent of email, Skype, and other electronic communication mediums, we've lost the art of handwriting thank you notes and general letters. Send something handwritten every once in awhile. It's fun to receive those and people will appreciate it much more than an email or text.